AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on March 9, 2014 at 5:02 AM

Updated Sunday, Mar 9 at 5:30 AM

Radar suggests missing jet may have turned back as officials check on suspicious passenger IDs

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Military radar indicates that the missing Boeing 777 jet may have turned back before vanishing, Malaysia's air force chief said Sunday as authorities were investigating up to four passengers with suspicious identifications.

The revelations add to the uncertainties surrounding the final minutes of flight MH370, which was carrying 239 people when it lost contact with ground controllers somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam after leaving Kuala Lumpur early Saturday morning for Beijing.

A massive international sea search has so far turned up no trace of the plane, which lost contact with the ground when the weather was fine, the plane was already cruising and the pilots didn't send a distress signal — unusual circumstance for a modern jetliner operated by a professional airline to crash.

Vietnamese air force jets spotted two large oil slicks Saturday, but it was unclear if they were linked to the missing plane, and no debris was found nearby.

Air force chief Rodzali Daud didn't say which direction the plane might have taken or how long for when it apparently went off route.

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It's too early to say why a Malaysia Airlines plane vanished but here are some probable causes

NEW YORK (AP) — The most dangerous parts of a flight are takeoff and landing. Rarely do incidents happen when a plane is cruising seven miles above the earth.

So the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jet well into its flight Saturday morning over the South China Sea has led aviation experts to assume that whatever happened was quick and left the pilots no time to place a distress call.

It could take investigators months, if not years, to determine what happened to the Boeing 777 flying from Malaysia's largest city of Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

"At this early stage, we're focusing on the facts that we don't know," said Todd Curtis, a former safety engineer with Boeing who worked on its 777 wide-body jets and is now director of the Airsafe.com Foundation.

If there was a minor mechanical failure — or even something more serious like the shutdown of both of the plane's engines — the pilots likely would have had time to radio for help. The lack of a call "suggests something very sudden and very violent happened," said William Waldock, who teaches accident investigation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz.

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Russia reinforces military presence in Crimea; Moscow denounces Ukrainian authorities

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Dozens of military trucks transporting heavily armed soldiers rumbled over Crimea's rutted roads Saturday as Russia reinforced its armed presence on the disputed peninsula in the Black Sea. Moscow's foreign minister ruled out any dialogue with Ukraine's new authorities, whom he dismissed as the puppets of extremists.

The Russians have denied their armed forces are active in Crimea, but an Associated Press reporter trailed one military convoy Saturday afternoon from 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Feodosia to a military airfield at Gvardeiskoe north of Simferopol, over which a Russian flag flew.

Some of the army green vehicles had Russian license plates and numbers indicating that they were from the Moscow region. Some towed mobile kitchens and what appeared to be mobile medical equipment.

The strategic peninsula in southern Ukraine has become the flashpoint in the battle for Ukraine, where three months of protests sparked by President Victor Yanukovych's decision to ditch a significant treaty with the 28-nation European Union after strong pressure from Russia led to his downfall. A majority of people in Crimea identify with Russia, and Moscow's Black Sea Fleet is based in Sevastopol, as is Ukraine's.

Vladislav Seleznyov, a Crimean-based spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces, told AP that witnesses had reported seeing amphibious military ships unloading around 200 military vehicles in eastern Crimea on Friday night after apparently having crossed the Straits of Kerch, which separates Crimea from Russian territory.

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Crimea's new leader, a man with a murky past now working to tie his region to Russia

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Two weeks ago, Sergey Aksyonov was a small-time Crimean politician, the leader of a tiny pro-Russia political party that could barely summon 4 percent of the votes in the last regional election. He was a little-known businessman with a murky past and a nickname — "Goblin" — left over from the days when criminal gangs flourished here after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Times have changed.

Today, Aksyonov is the prime minister of Crimea's regional parliament and the public face of Russia's seizure of the Black Sea peninsula. He is, by all appearances, a man placed in power by Moscow who is now working hard to make Crimea a part of Russia.

He also leads a brand-new army, 30 men carrying AK-47s who are still learning to march in formation. "Commander!" they greeted him Saturday, when they were sworn into service in a Simferopol park.

Speaking at the ceremony, the former semi-professional boxer said that while Crimea's March 16 referendum would make the peninsula a part of Russia, he holds no grudge against Ukraine.

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73 arrested, 4 police officers injured at Massachusetts college's pre-St. Pat's blowout

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) — A pre-St. Patrick's Day celebration near the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts spiraled out of control, pitting police in riot gear against thousands of drunken and unruly revelers at the annual "Blarney Blowout." There were more than 70 arrests and four officers were injured in the clashes that included some students throwing beer bottles, cans and snowballs, officials said.

Amherst police said early Sunday that 73 people had been arrested after authorities spent most of the day Saturday attempting to disperse several large gathering around the UMass campus for the party traditionally held the Saturday before spring break. The partying carried through Saturday evening into early Sunday, and Amherst Police Capt. Jennifer Gundersen said in a statement that police were busy with numerous reports of fights, noise and highly intoxicated individuals.

Gundersen called the daylong partying "extremely disturbing and unsafe."

"Perhaps one of the worst scenes we have ever had with drunkenness and unruliness," Gundersen told The Republican in Springfield. "It is extremely upsetting. It is very dangerous."

UMass denounced the "unruly behavior" Saturday and spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said students who were arrested will be reviewed under the school's code of conduct and that sanctions could include suspension or expulsion.

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AP Exclusive: Record second felony convictions by counties undermine California prison goals

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California counties are confounding the state's court-ordered efforts to sharply reduce its inmate population by sending state prisons far more convicts than anticipated, including a record number of people with second felony convictions.

The surge in offenders requiring state prison sentences is undermining a nearly 3-year-old law pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The legislation restructured California's criminal justice system to keep lower-level felons in county jails while reserving state prison cells for serious, violent and sexual offenders.

The law initially reduced the state prison population by 25,000 inmates and brought it close to the level demanded by a special panel of three federal judges who ruled that a reduction in crowding was the best way to improve treatment of inmates.

But the inmate population is rising again, led by a record increase in the number of second felony convictions for those who already had a prior conviction for a serious crime.

Counties, where prosecutors have discretion in filing such charges, sent nearly 5,500 people with second felony convictions to state prisons during the 2013-14 fiscal year, a 33 percent increase over the previous year and the most since California enacted the nation's first three-strikes law in 1994 that required life sentences for offenders convicted of three felonies.

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GOP targets Clinton, Rand Paul wins CPAC straw poll

OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — She was not on the speaking program, but Hillary Rodham Clinton had presence at the nation's largest annual gathering of conservative activists on Saturday, as high-profile Republicans launched a dual effort to attack the prospective Democratic presidential candidate and improve the GOP's longstanding struggle with women voters.

It was the closing act of a Republican summit that highlighted acute challenges for a party that hasn't won a presidential election in a decade.

The GOP's 2008 vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, offered a message to all women, a group that has backed Democrats in every presidential election since 1988: "Women, don't let them use you — unless you choose to be their political pawn, just their piece of accessory on their arm."

The Republican firebrand was among just a handful of women featured on the main stage during the Conservative Political Action Conference, which offers an early audition for GOP officials weighing a 2016 presidential run and a platform for leading conservatives to put their stamp on the evolving Republican Party. Thousands of conservative activists, opinion leaders and Republican officials flocked to a hotel just across the Potomac River near Washington.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul won the conference's presidential preference straw poll, a symbolic victory that reflects his popularity among conservatives who typically hold outsized influence in the GOP's presidential selection process.

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Fire Dept.: 30-40 people hurt as stage collapses at S. California high school

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — A stage at a Southern California high school collapsed during a student event and 30-40 people were rushed to hospitals with mainly minor injuries, authorities said.

Police, firefighters and medics responded to a call shortly before 11 p.m. PST Saturday after the stage gave way at Servite High School, according to the Anaheim Fire Department.

The dispatch supervisory office told The Associated Press that 30-40 people were transported to hospitals.

Most of the injuries are minor and none is life threatening.

The office said it's not immediately clear if the injured are students.

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Kerry, Cruz and Crist poke fun at each other, journalists at 129th annual Gridiron Dinner

WASHINGTON (AP) — Politicians poked fun at adversaries and themselves Saturday night at the annual Gridiron dinner, a gathering of journalists and public figures.

Conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, joked about his clashes with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Cruz, not known to closely follow party leaders' instructions, told the crowd that McConnell had asked him to represent the GOP "and when Leader McConnell wants something, who am I to say no?"

Cruz mentioned his recent filibuster opposing President Barack Obama's health care law. It featured 21 hours of "nothing but my favorite sound" Cruz said of his lengthy talk.

Charlie Crist, who was Florida governor as a Republican and seeks to regain the job as a Democrat — spoke for his new party. Crist said he checked his big ego by reminding himself that John McCain found Sarah Palin a worthier running mate in 2008. And he took a jab at Cruz, saying the Texas tea partyer's followers wear "tri-cornered aluminum hats."

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Spring forward: Daylight saving time arrives, bringing an extra hour of evening sunlight

WASHINGTON (AP) — A sure sign that spring is on the horizon: daylight saving time has arrived.

Most Americans pushed the clock forward by 60 minutes before heading to bed Saturday night, but daylight saving time officially started in the wee hours Sunday at 2 a.m. local time.

You may have lost an hour of sleep, but in the months ahead you'll gain an extra hour of sunlight in the evenings.

It's also a good time to put new batteries in warning devices such as smoke detectors.

The time change was not observed by Hawaii, most of Arizona, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Marianas.

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